2.3.9 – Other traditions about Medea’s children

[9] ἔπη δὲ ἔστιν ἐν Ἕλλησι Ναυπάκτια ὀνομαζόμενα: πεποίηται δὲ ἐν αὐτοῖς Ἰάσονα ἐξ Ἰωλκοῦ μετὰ τὸν Πελίου θάνατον ἐς Κόρκυραν μετοικῆσαι καί οἱ Μέρμερον μὲν τὸν πρεσβύτερον τῶν παίδων ὑπὸ λεαίνης διαφθαρῆναι θηρεύοντα ἐν τῇ πέραν ἠπείρῳ: Φέρητι δὲ οὐδέν ἐστιν ἐς μνήμην προσκείμενον. Κιναίθων δὲ ὁ Λακεδαιμόνιος—ἐγενεαλόγησε γὰρ καὶ οὗτος ἔπεσι —Μήδειον καὶ θυγατέρα Ἐριῶπιν Ἰάσονι εἶπεν ἐκ Μηδείας γενέσθαι: πέρα δὲ ἐς τοὺς παῖδας οὐδὲ τούτῳ πεποιημένα ἐστίν.

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The account of Medea’s children gives us an opportunity to see how Pausanias does research. Both in the previous section and this one, Pausanias cites no less than four sources as he attempts to learn more about Medea’s and Jason’s children, their names, their parents, and their significance.  To begin with, in section 6, although he does not explicitly identify his source, we can surmise that the Corinthians call them Mermerus and Pheres and he learned this from his guides at Corinth.

In section 8,  however, Pausanias reports on who is responsible for naming the Medes. So now he dives into his literary sources.  First, he relates what Herodotus reports (without naming him, as so often), that the people of the region around Aria were renamed Medes after her. But he also hints that her son from Aegeus, named Medus, may be responsible for naming the Medes (“they say”–recent authors such as Strabo, Ps.Apollodorus).  But just to let the reader know that he has done his homework, he informs us that the 5th century Hellanicus records a different name for her child from Aegeus: Polyxenus.

After stating the general consensus (and one dissenter) about who is responsible for naming the Medes, in section 9 he turns to two other versions of what happens to Medea’s and Jason’s children.  This time, he cites the archaic epic poem Naupactia to suggest that a very early version of the myth records Mermerus (and perhaps Pheres) were not killed by Medea, but remained with their father when he moved from Iolcus to the island of Corcyra. According to this tradition, Mermerus was killed not by Medea, but by a lioness.  Cinaethon, an early writer of genealogies, however, presents a version of the myth in which her two children by Jason are named Medeus (a son) and Eriopis (a daughter).

If you managed to follow all this, you might ask, what exactly is the point?  First, it shows that Pausanias plays the role of pepaideumenos well, filling his readers in on some details about the myth that they may not have learned in school.  And second, following the Herodotean tradition, he presents the evidence for variants in the myth but does not always take a side, leaving it to readers to make up their own mind.


Places Named in Pausanias’ description of Corinth (Google Earth): Naupactus, Iolcus, River Asopus, Colchis